Enlarge /. Patti Grace Smith was an important figure in the commercial space industry.
Alvin Drew recalls being fascinated by airplanes a few months before his fifth birthday. In the fall of 1967, he went to Baltimore Airport to take his father on a business trip. In those simpler times, he remembers going outside to watch the take-off from a specific area on the runway.
Four-year-olds like anything big and loud, and seeing a plane speed down the runway, pop a wheelie, and then take off was almost the coolest thing he could imagine. His mother and grandmother, both educators, noticed his interest and bought him model airplanes. This sparked a growing interest in flying and later became an astronaut.
"You saw a smoldering fire of curiosity in me," said Drew. "They went out and threw as much gasoline on the fire as possible."
Drew went to the Air Force Academy in 1984 where a mentor expressed an interest in one day becoming an astronaut. The instructor said if Drew really wanted to fly into space, he would need good grades, flying experience, and an advanced degree. "He walked a stone path for me to become an astronaut," said Drew. "Many black students, including myself, would not have known otherwise."
Drew was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and flew twice into space on space shuttle missions, including the final exploration flight in 2011. Drew will stay until Victor Glover takes off on NASA's Crew 1 mission later that month the last black astronaut to have flown into space.
Drew shared this background to highlight the importance of mentors. They helped advance his interest in space and achieve a career in the aerospace industry. And it explains why he played a role in starting the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship program along with Khristian Jones, Tiffany Russell Lockett, and Will Pomerantz.
During her tenure in the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Grace was a major commercial space advocate and a popular member of the aerospace industry in the 1990s and 2000s. She led the team that licensed the first commercial human spaceflight aboard SpaceShipOne. She died of pancreatic cancer in 2016.
Named in her honor, the program offers paid scholarship opportunities to black students at community colleges and universities in some of the country's leading space companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Lockheed Martin. <Img alt = "Alvin Drew flew into space last space shuttle discovery Mission. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/alvin-drew.jpg "width =" 1279 "height =" 1006″/>
Alvin Drew flew into space on the final space shuttle discovery mission.
This is a project of the successful Brooke Owens Fellowship, which was launched in 2017 to facilitate the involvement of more women in the space industry. Drew, who was familiar with this scholarship, said he was keen to sponsor a similar scholarship for color students. Blacks make up 13.4 percent of the US population, but it is estimated that only 6 percent of US aerospace and defense workers are black. Only 3 percent of aerospace executives are black.
Drew said these types of programs are important to the future of the country. As the United States rivals China, India, and other nations in aerospace for the decades ahead, he said the country needs to tap into its entire population.
"I want to deploy as much talent as possible in our country as soon as possible, especially in the STEM careers," said Drew. "We can't compete with these countries in terms of number of people, so we have to collect every ounce of talent available."
The scholarship will seek out students from non-traditional aerospace universities, including community colleges, to find under-represented candidates, he said. This benefits students who might otherwise be unaware of the opportunities, and helps the industry find applicants in institutions they might not otherwise seek.
And what quality should successful candidates have when they apply? "We're looking for people who have strong desire," said Drew. "We're looking for the most motivated people. The surest way to fail is not to try at all."